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Review: Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art (Canon EF)

by Chris Gampat on 04/12/2014

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review product lead (1 of 1)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 3.5

Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art is the successor to the company’s previous 50mm f1.4 lens that was also held in very high regard. However, the new lens has been brought in line both in terms of design and image quality with the company’s new Global Vision–and specifically under its Art lineup. The focal length and aperture are an iconic one that many photographers swear by. In fact, many only shoot with this one lens.

But is Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art offering enough to make you want to trade up?

Editor’s Note: Check out our first sample imagesfull review, and comparison posts against the 35mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.4 version 1.

Pros and Cons

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (19 of 19)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.0

Pros

– Incredibly sharp lens

– Great build quality and feel

– Fast focusing

– Beautiful bokeh

– Nice saturation of colors

Cons

– Everyone and their mother is going to sit here and compare it to the Zeiss 55mm f1.4 Otus. It’s not really a comparable lens since this isn’t fair due to the price point and the fact that if someone wants Zeiss glass, they’re going to go for it no matter what

– Pretty large for a 50mm f1.4; but all the new 50mm lenses that have been coming out are also quite big.

Gear Used

We reviewed the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens with the Canon 5D Mk II, Phottix Odin, and Phottix Mitros+ flash. A D800E wasn’t available during our initial testing phase and we also don’t believe that everyone who is considering this lens has the newest cameras around. This makes it more in tune with the site’s real world shooting philosophy.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from Sigma’s product listing

Lens Construction 13 Elements in 8 Groups
Angle of View 46.8º
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9
Mininum Aperture f16
Minimum Focusing Distance 40 cm / 15.7 in
Filter Size (mm) 77mm
Maximum Magnifications 1: 5.6
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
85.4 x 99.9 mm/ 3.4 x 3.9 in
Weight  TBD
Corresponding Mounts
Sigma DG
HSM
Nikon DG
HSM
Canon DG
HSM

 

Ergonomics

Taken from our First Impressions Post

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma dp and 50mm f1.4 product images first impressions (7 of 12)ISO 64001-40 sec at f - 4.0

If you’ve been a fan of Sigma’s new designs, then get ready to be really hyped. The 50mm f1.4 Art lens looks as spectacular as the 35mm f1.4–plus it feels like Hasselblad would have made it. The exterior is comprised of metal sans for a couple of very key areas.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma dp and 50mm f1.4 product images first impressions (11 of 12)ISO 64001-60 sec at f - 5.6

When you first look at the lens, you’ll notice that it is dominated by the large focusing ring. This ring is positioned near the front of the lens and just behind it is the depth of field and distance scale. For what it’s worth, I really wish that Sigma would have made the depth of field scale actually useful.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma dp and 50mm f1.4 product images first impressions (12 of 12)ISO 64001-40 sec at f - 5.6

In comparison to the previous 35mm f1.4, you can see that the 50mm f1.4 (on the right) is larger both in height and girth. In fact, it feels a bit larger than Sony’s new 50mm f1.4.

Build Quality

Everything about the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens screams about its quality. It’s beautiful beefy, big, and feels incredibly solid. In fact, it could easily be mistaken for a medium format lens of some sort. Granted, this lens doesn’t have weather sealing built into it–but that would have sweetened the deal a lot more.

Users with big and small hands alike will have no problems with the handling. The exterior has a smooth matte like finish that is synonymous with the company’s 35mm f1.4 Art lens.

Autofocus

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (11 of 13)ISO 4001-500 sec at f - 1.4

We found the autofocusing to be speedy and accurate for the most part providing that the focusing point is over a clear contrasting point. In low light situations, the focusing struggled a bit but not enough to make us want to scream “Damn autofocus” every second of the day like what we experienced with the Sony A7r.

Event and wedding photographers using modern cameras shouldn’t have much of an issue with the focusing at all. However, we’d highly suggest that you sit down and microadjust the lens to your camera before you go out and try to create great pictures. Accurate focusing is something that plagues lots of third party lenses. Once you get over this problem though, you’ll be shooting with it and enjoying images like everyone else.

Where we found this lens really rocking though is with portraits. Subjects are often still and after you’ve posed them, you’ll be able to easily focus on the eyes and shoot. In general, still subjects are amongst the best to shoot with this lens.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (9 of 13)ISO 4001-400 sec at f - 8.0

Most users of the Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens we see using the autofocus functionality. And if you’re going to opt for that option then simply slap it onto your camera, point, click and have fun. But if you want to manually focus, then you’ll have a heck of a time using the zone focusing method due to a depth of field scale that is pretty much useless. We tried to do it and it was incredibly tough with this lens–and that’s a big damper on shooting street photography. The same goes for video shooters; though we recommend that you try not to change focusing while using this lens.

Image Quality

Editor’s Note: as always EXIF data is in the image file name. Click on it and you’ll find it in the URL.

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (13 of 19)ISO 1001-400 sec at f - 1.6

When it comes to image quality of the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens, it truly is deserving of its Art moniker. This lens delivers some of the most beautiful image quality that we’ve seen and surely puts lots of the first party offerings to shame with the exception of the Sony 50mm f1.4 Zeiss lens.

Where we were most in love with the quality has to be the lens’s micro contrast. When shooting wide open at f1.4, it will make your subjects really stand out from the beautiful bokeh in the background. The micro contrast also helps to add a bit more to the sharpness of the images.

Colors from this lens are also quite beautiful with many of the main points in the RGB spectrum being well saturated. We encourage you to experiment with the many color profiles on your camera to see what the results will look like. Something that seems to add to the depth of the colors is the contrast that this lens offers. It isn’t as contrasty as its 35mm f1.4 Art cousin and therefore doesn’t have as great colors in our opinion, but it is still quite good. Additionally, modern software lets you do almost anything with the color depth of modern sensors and lenses. So you really shouldn’t worry about it so much.

This is a lens that is being targeted at the higher end audience and we think that everyone that tries it will be very satisfied.

Sharpness

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (16 of 19)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 4.0

Yes, it’s true. Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 is super sharp. We find it to be incredibly sharp when shot wide open and that is manages to reach its critical sharpness at f8. At f2 though, you’ll have the absolute best balance of bokeh quality and sharpness. Additionally, the lens is super sharp at f2. In fact, we think that most folks will want to shoot at this aperture with the lens all day.

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (17 of 19)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.5

We tested this lens on the Canon 5D Mk II and when it comes to sharpness, we want to remind everyone of the two factors that make up sharpness: acutance and resolution. The resolution from a 21MP imaging sensor is more than enough for images that are going on the web and you’ll only really need more if you’re retouching. In fact, retouching is excellent with the 36MP sensor in the A7r and Nikon D800 because of all the extra pixel area.

The other factor is acutance–and that is easily discernable with any lens on any camera but is only made better by the addition of extra light from a flash to deliver specular highlights. In a case like that, consider the image to the left that was shot at f2.5 and had a flash bounced off of a wall camera left. Despite the fact that we were shooting during the day, the addition of a flash in the right location added extra details to the image. In effect, it increases the acutance or at least emphasizes it even more.

If you’d like to talk about a comparison, it is safe to say that it is more or less on par with the Sony 50mm f1.4 and the 55mm f1.4 Otus with the Sigma being the lens in the middle of the three. But it also makes no sense to do this unless you’re only shooting on a Sony system.

We’ll end this section by saying that the sharpness of this lens blows the older Sigma 50mm f1.4 lens out of the water until you get to f8.

Bokeh

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (13 of 13)ISO 4001-160 sec at f - 1.4

Believe us when we state that the word beautiful isn’t strong enough of a word to describe the quality. In fact, the English language may not have one. We wouldn’t say that the quality is hazy but instead very creamy. Upon another inspection, something about the bokeh also looks very Leica-like. You’ll get all the gorgeous round bokeh balls that you want.

Bokeh fiends will really digg this–and we’re positive that brides will too when you shoot their weddings.

Color Rendition

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (10 of 13)ISO 4001-640 sec at f - 8.0

As far as colors go, We don’t think that the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens is better than the 35mm f1.4 Art offering. However, it offers very saturated colors and is still no slouch. This is where we would have to give it to Zeiss if you wanted to compare. Additionally, we feel that the saturation is a bit too strong for skin tones when shooting portraits despite Sigma’s attempts to not saturate the orange channel too much–at least that’s what we feel in our color tests.

Color Fringing

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (7 of 19)ISO 2001-400 sec at f - 4.0

Very, very little fringing was found straight out of the camera unless we cranked up the contrast in the post-production phase. In the image above, we cranked the contrast up a bit which cause the fringing that you see in the trees.

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (9 of 19)ISO 2001-4000 sec at f - 1.8

But in this image you can find a very tiny bit of fringing in the scene. However, it is once again very controlled. And like we say with every single lens that we review, color fringing is very easily removed in post production and it shouldn’t bother you at all. Additionally, it won’t get in the way of you creating beautiful images.

Extra Image Samples

Here are some extra image samples

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (18 of 19)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (12 of 13)ISO 1001-6400 sec at f - 1.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (9 of 13)ISO 4001-400 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (8 of 13)ISO 4001-800 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (5 of 13)ISO 4001-800 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art Lens Review images (2 of 13)ISO 1001-640 sec at f - 4.0

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (15 of 19)ISO 1001-500 sec at f - 1.4

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (14 of 19)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 2.5

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (12 of 19)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 4.0

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (10 of 19)ISO 1001-40 sec at f - 16

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (8 of 19)ISO 2001-3200 sec at f - 1.4

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (6 of 19)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 4.0

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (5 of 19)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 2.8

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (3 of 19)ISO 1001-320 sec at f - 3.5

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images (2 of 19)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 4.0

Conclusions

The-Phoblographer-Editor's-Choice-Award-Logo

Likes

– Great feel

– Not a bad price, but we’re not sure that everyone will be able to afford it.

– Beautiful bokeh

– Excellent sharpness wide open

– Not a lot of vignetting wide open

– Fast focusing

Dislikes

– No weather sealing

– No real working depth of field scale for street photography.

– If you have the older 50mm f1.4, it is only worth the upgrade if that is pretty much all you use and you shoot wide open a whole lot.

– It’s pretty damn big

– We wish there were even more micro contrast

Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 Art DG HSM is an exceptional lens. Starting with the design, it very much is in line with the company’s 35mm f1.4 Art optic. The outside feels and looks like something that Hasselblad might make. It feels just so great in your hands that you’d never want to let it go. In fact, if you’re a big fan of the 50mm field of view you might never want to give it up.

Users also just won’t be able to complain about the image quality. The sharpness, bokeh, colors and look are top of the class despite some personal gripes. We feel like most users will be very satisfied. Once again, if you purchase the lens and are still looking at/talking about how the Zeiss performs better, then you should probably just go for the Zeiss. Again though, not everyone can afford it.

For everyone else, know that we give Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art lens our Editor’s Choice award and the extra rating of a full five stars.

The Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM is available usually for $949 at B&H Photo.

 

Phoblographer-Star-rating

Recommended Cameras and Lenses

– Nikon D800E: The highest resolution DSLR on the market is the best choice for this lens if you’re looking to get into doing lots of retouching.

– Sony A7r: Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 Art lens will be very unbalanced with the A7r, but you’ll get the pure image quality for sure.

– Canon 5D Mk III: At the moment, this is Canon’s highest megapixel DSLR. And it will help you to get all you can in terms of resolution and details.

– Profoto B1 Air TTL: We recommend this light because of the fact that the TTL will help you to get the best resolution and acutance from the camera and lens combo in the quickest way.

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